For many NBA fans, Boston's run to the title last season wasn't just about watching the legendary Celtics return to the top of the basketball world. It was more about getting a chance to witness emote-icon Kevin Garnett complete his long journey to an NBA title. KG has long been respected by basketball faithful for being a player who leaves it all on the floor while wearing his heart on his sleeve, and his intense play during the Celtics' championship season only enhanced that reputation.
I was recently fortunate enough to get the chance to sit down with Garnett and talk to him straight-up about everything from what it's like to finally be a champion, to his thoughts on players who only show up during contract years. The candid interview took place over about 30 minutes in a back office of the NBA Store in New York. Hit the jump to read the full thing; and special thanks to NBA 2K9 for hooking me up with KG (who appears as the cover guy for the latest edition of the game).
FanHouse: "Let's start by talking about the Celtics' championship run last season. I think it was truly a shared moment for NBA fans everywhere, to see you finally get to that point and win it all. Can you talk about what that exact moment was like right after you closed out Game 6?"
Kevin Garnett: "You know what's crazy, man? I hate showing emotion. I hate showing raw emotion because I like that to be private. Sometimes when there's an abundance of it, I can't really center it or control it, and when it comes out, it's not like I'm ashamed of it, but if I could control it a lot better, I would. And sometimes, I ain't gonna front, I label it as disappointing, but ... I've had women come up to me and say they shed a tear at that moment, and I've had really strong, manly guys come up to me and say the same thing, so you try to pull the pluses out of everything, and I guess the pluses in that is that people actually felt the validation. They felt me coming to grips with everything that I'd worked hard for, so with that, and giving someone else strength with that, I'd take that and label it as inspiration."
FH: "Well, it's rare. It was one of those moments where it feels like, this player has been trying to win a title for a long time, and in many people's opinions this was a player that did it the right way. So to go on that journey with him, and to see him get to that point where it all hits and it's all right there, I think it did become a shared moment."
KG: "It was definitely over the top. It was overwhelming. I'm trying to tell you, I've had grown men, people that I know that are from some tough neighborhoods, tell me straight up that they cried. And it's the human part of us, though. I just wish that I could be a lot more under control, but you know what? I think that's what people love about me, that I am a real person, and I do speak from a real perspective, so you can pull the pluses out of it."
FH: "Going back a little bit, I think it's interesting to hear you, of all people, say that you don't like to show emotion on the court ..."
KG: "No, I don't like to show raw emotion. When I'm on the floor, I don't even think about what I'm doing. Half the time I'm just in the moment, and, like, in a zone, to where ... I'm just in a zone and I'm locked in. Sometimes when I watch nature channels, 'cause I love nature shows, and I watch a lion or I watch a cheetah chase prey, I can sort of understand it. Because you lock into something and you actually go after it. That's how I play. When I see a person across from me that's trying to beat me at what we're doing, I sort of lock in, I lock in to the point to where; it's not to be cute or respectable. Sometimes it comes off pretty raw, but however it comes off, it comes off."
KG: "Sometimes, like after games they've asked me countless times about certain moves and stuff and... (Pause) And I can't recall it. I don't know what it is, but certain times I obviously remember what went on, but when you're in it sometimes, you're just going. You're not thinking about it, you're just reacting; basketball is a game of reaction and you're just; you worked on stuff, so your mind's going and you're thinking about 12 different things, so to pinpoint on just one or two things sometimes is difficult."
FH: "Is this intensity something that you've always had? Or is it something you had to practice, like improving a jump shot?"
KG: "I've never had a problem being motivated. I've never had a problem with stepping out on the floor and competing. Skill-wise, I've obviously had to grow into a lot of things and still, to this day, have to work on things. But motivation and competing have been the easiest things about this game. I love to compete and I've found ways to motivate myself."
FH: "Right after you won it all, during your post-game interview, you gave a shout-out to 'Peanut', and I'm wondering who that is? Is that your daughter?"
KG: "Yeah. That's my way of having code in speaking to the people that mean the most to me. And them not having their own personal names out, because I'm a nickname freak, and a lot of times when I'm doing an interview I always like to say hello, but sometimes I just throw the nickname in there and they know exactly who they are."
FH: "Are you worried about motivation now that you've gotten to the pinnacle, now that you've won a title?"
KG: "Absolutely not. Because I feel like, you know, when you accomplish something, the one thing you want to do is maintain it. You're considered the best because of the reasons that people put you in that role. But to me, and this is my definition, the consistency of that ... You see so many people; they've got contract years and they're playing unbelievable, you know? And you're like, god ...
FH: "... Anyone in particular?"
KG: "No, I'm not going to do that. But I'm just speaking on the consistency of when someone's good and great, the difference is the consistency when it comes to stuff like that. People tend to look at it like, 'Man, he played great last year, but man, this year he ...' Things happen, but consistency is the one thing I always try to keep and make it a constant every year. It's what I'm trying to do. So being the best, and us as a team being the best, and understanding what we've got at stake, should be enough motivation."
FH: "You gave a shout-out to Minnesota, or 'Sota, right after you won it all ..."
KG: "... Absolutely."
FH: "Is there anyone from your years with that team that you wish you could've taken with you on that journey to winning it all?"
KG: "Sam Mitchell. I wish I could've took Sam Mitchell. I wish I could've took Malik (Sealy). I wish I could've took my man Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson, guys that have been there with me. Tom Hammonds, Terry Porter. I wish I could've had those guys there because those guys imprinted in ... (Pause) Influenced me in a way that, um ... (Pause) To this day, I still apply a lot of the same things ... and I use the influence from those guys every day. For people that were always great to me, I've always tried, in return, to give everything that I have. I've always embraced them with two hands, never 50-50. And I felt like I've always been able to represent (the state of Minnesota) in the way that it should, so it was only fitting that when I won, I felt like I was representing a lot of people that shared a lot of views on how to see things too. That's in my heart. That's not fabricated, so when you're going off raw emotion, that's the real person speaking, and really letting them know that I appreciate the people that have been with me since day one."
FH: "Is it fair to ask you if it would have been sweeter to accomplish winning a title with Minnesota?"
KG: "Absolutely. Absolutely. It would've been great to do it with Steph, it would've been great to do it with Sam Mitchell, it would've been great to do it with Sam Cassell and Spree, but it wasn't meant to be."
FH: "But not winning it all with Minnesota doesn't diminish anything that happened?"
KG: "Not at all. I don't hold grudges, and I don't point at somebody else. I think in certain situations, the obvious is the obvious, and you go with that and I learned through my experiences that you're only responsible for yourself, and as a leader you have to set the tone and be the example. Sometimes the example is labeled, sometimes as a bad example, but if you can look at yourself in the mirror, and can say, 'I gave everything I had tonight' ... For me, I'm not Superman, I'm not perfect, but I am a person who will work 24 hours and get down on the ground if I have to."
FH: "Well, moving forward with the Celtics this year, what's the biggest challenge?"
KG: "The biggest challenge, to me, is obviously preparing to defend this title. This is my first time, and it's a lot of our first times on the other side (as a champion). You know, Sam Cassell was telling me in detail how it was for them when they did whatever; you don't get the same amount of rest, so obviously the schedule is going to be big. But it's cool. I like being everyone's big game, because now you know you're getting everybody's best."
KG: "I wouldn't say it's a target, but it's good to know that you're giving me your all, and you're not out here B.S-ing, and you're taking me seriously. Because sometimes I watch film of a team we played, and I can watch that same team the very next night, and that team doesn't look nowhere near to the team that played us. So we already know that we're more than motivating these teams and these players, so that's a good thing. I think I'm going to enjoy it. I think a lot of times I don't always get to enjoy (stuff), but I'm going to enjoy this."
FH: "With the Darius Miles signing, do you know him well? Are you worried about him disrupting team chemistry given his troubled past? ..."
KG: "... True. True. But I think of it like this, man. When I see people who've had troubled pasts, and we've all, you know, we're not perfect, and we've all got things that we probably didn't really want to happen, but they happened, and we learned from it, but when you screw up, make sure it gives you character and gives you some actual depth to who you are. When I look at Darius, man, I can't really say that Darius has been a part of a team like this, with the quality guys we've got, with the veterans we've got. There have probably been guys that came to this team that weren't the most well-liked guys on their previous teams, but they came on to this team and fit in and now people love them. People are kind of crazy when it comes to perspective and their teams, because once (the players are) winning, they're liked. Everything gets quickly forgotten. So I think Darius coming to us is a great thing, if not just for us, but for him. There are a lot of good guys around. A lot of guys that know how to communicate, a lot of guys that can relate to some of his past and where he comes from, so it should be enlightening for him."
FH: "Are there any younger players on the Celtics or in the league that you look at and say, 'I see a little bit of myself in that guy' in terms of intensity and approach?"
KG: "Yeah ... (Pause) I don't know why I'm drawing a blank, but basically guys that have a whole lot of energy on both ends ... An abundance of energy, and is everywhere ... I enjoy watching Josh Smith play. I enjoy watching our younger guys play; Leon Powe and Big Baby. I love watching them work every day. I love their energy, I love the way they think."
FH: "With that Hawks series in general, they were arguably the toughest team you guys faced ..."
KG: "Well, they were young and they had nothing to lose. I remember when (I was in Minnesota and) we played the Spurs, I thought we were going shock the world, and I really felt that, and I really felt that's how it was planned. I was like, 'I'm out here, man! They're supposed to be the best? So what! To hell with 'em!' And that's part of being young, I don't want to say naive, but being young, having that energy, and really believing in that, and then reality sets in and it's a little different. I understood (Atlanta's) position, but I really didn't care."
FH: "Well, talking about young guys, Al Horford seems to be someone who does things the right way ..."
KG: "Hmmm, I don't know his every day regimen, but he's definitely a driving force for what they were doing down there. The young fella has a bright future; hopefully he continues to stay focused and be consistent."